A Round Table Discussion of Scholars of Diverse communities on ‘LEARNING FROM OTHER COMMUNITIES’

By WordForPeace.com Correspondent

Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies (IHPS), New Delhi, is committed to research and field engagement in the area of promoting inter-faith and cross-cultural perspectives, universal values, social ethics, inter-community relations, national integration and social harmony. ‘Inclusive thinking and harmonious living’ is its esteemed motto.

The Institute organizes seminars, discussions and workshops; publishes books and articles; guides students on field-based projects related to social issues; engages in delivering lectures, views and messages on platforms of diverse compositions, and the like, in line with the core themes mentioned above.

Here is the report of the Round Table Discussion on ‘Learning from Other Communities’ / ‘Doosre Samudaayon se Seekhnaa’, held India Islamic Cultural Centre, New Delhi, on 10 February 2018.

Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies, New Delhi, organized a Round Table Discussion at India Islamic Cultural Centre, New Delhi, on 10 February 2018. The Theme of the discussion was ‘Learning from Other Communities’. The Discussion was chaired and moderated by Dr M. D. Thomas, Founder Director, Institute of Harmony and Peace Studies, New Delhi.

Prof. Shashi Tiwari, Prof. Cynthia Masih, Prof. Rita Bagchi, Dr Indu Jain, Ms Ava Khullar, Prof. Anekant
Jain, Dr A.K. Merchant, Dr Sarvjit Dudeja, Mr. Sunil Kumar, Mr Praveen Gupta, Mr Marazban Nariman
Zaiwalla, Janab Ghulam Rasool Dehalvi, Mr Naveen Chandra and Dr M.D. Thomas were the participants
of the discussion. Keeping the exercise among a few and selected scholars was in view of more focused
and in-depth discussion and that, obviously, yielded better results, as well.
Dr M. D. Thomas, Chairman of the discussion, by the way of opening the conversation, stated that ‘going
from religion to interfaith and from interfaith to spirituality’ is the instinctive process of life. A ‘culture of
going beyond the human-made boundaries’ is the dictum that makes such a process real. The system of the human society is a case in point. Even after having been born from different parents, human beings grow up in relationships with other people. Relationship of diverse types forms various networks of the humans and diversity is the basis of unity, as well.
He commented that most religionists get glued to one’s religion, as children are attached to the lap of the
mother. They often fail to see good things in others. The wisdom of God is such that he distributed good
things all over the world, in every human being and in every community. No individual or group can claim the monopoly of goodness. All communities are incomplete in them and are complementary to each other.
Therefore, ‘learning from other communities’ is the basic ethics for living together in the same globe. Such an understanding is the capital of a meaningful human living.
Dr Thomas further said that the only substantial difference intended by the Creator is that of gender and
that is a key lesson for reciprocity and enrichment, which is oriented to further creation and sustainability of life. All other forms of differences, like that of caste, language, ideology, culture, faith, nationality, customs, etc, are secondary and are subject to change. Unsociability among communities, especially based on religion, is certainly a symptom of pathology. Counting the strengths of other communities, leading to learning from them, is the right measure to combat the menace of communal mindset. This will make the country and society more inclusive and qualitative.
By way of the dynamics of the discussion, he requested the participants to refrain from speaking about
one’s own community and proceed to highlight one of the qualities of other communities, which one has
learned from and got inspired by. The second round will be for discussing communities that have been not highlighted in the first round. The third round of the discussion will emerge with lessons for all the
communities, the country and the society, in terms of mutual learning, reciprocal enrichment and
harmonious living. The wisdom that emerges from the discussion will be circulated to more than 25,000
people from different countries through the e-mail data bank of IHPS, he added.
‘What I learned from the Christian Community’, on this topic Ms Ava Khullar, President, Parsi Anjuman,
New Delhi, said that the people of the Christian community have always been dedicated to the welfare and service of the larger humanity. Referring to Mumbai’s Shanti Avedna Cancer Institute, she affirmed that devotedness, care of the patients, cleanliness, peaceful environment, and the like, are laudable lessons for all communities. Mr Praveen Gupta, member of IHPS, said that Christians are good at keeping good relations with their neighbours, in line with the dictum of the Bible ‘love your neighbour’. Mr Naveen Chandra, member of IHPS, mentioned Mother Teresa as an inspirational icon for selfless Christian service especially to the least and the abandoned.
‘What did I learn from the Muslim community’, as regards this Prof. Rita Bagchi, Former Professor,
Jamia Hamdard University, New Delhi, said that the condition of women is better in the Muslim
community, in certain respects. Prof. Shashi Tiwari, President, Waves India, New Delhi, said that Muslims pray together and by and large they follow rules very strictly. This discipline of the community is commendable. Dr Indu Jain, President, Sarvodaya Vishwa Bharti Pratishthan, said that Muslims implement Islamic law and there is something here for all to learn.
About the qualities of the ‘Sikh Community’, Prof. Anekant Jain, Professor, Department of Jain
Philosophy, Sri Lal Bahadur Shastri Sanskrit Vidyapeeth, New Delhi, said that the Sikhs clean the
Gurudwara and they take care of the shoes of others with their own hands, which is very much appreciable.
Dr M. D. Thomas highlighted the ‘keertan’ of guruvaanee in Gurudwara as exceptionally devotional and
heart-warming and that has been personally beneficial to him in his spiritual realization. Dr Sarvjit Dudeja, President of Delhi Study Group, said that the Langar of Gurudwara remove all types of discrimination in the people and inspire a feeling of equality with one and all.
Reflecting the virtues of the ‘Vedic Community’, Islamic Scholar Mr Ghulam Rasool Dehalvi confessed
the great learning he received from the universal principles of Vedanta Philosophy, especially the unity of existence, love and monotheism. About Prajaapati Brahmaakumaree Ishwareey Vishwavidyaalay, Mr
Marazban Nariman Zaiwalla, Member of Parsi Anjuman, New Delhi, said that this tradition provided him with the education of spirituality and devotion, without any restriction of religion and caste. Mr Sunil Kumar, President, Initiatives of Changes Centre for Governance, New Delhi, said that the learning to coordinate with the soul, along with duties, devotion, self-religion, etc, is an added quality of this
community.
Illustrating the distinguishing feature of the ‘Parsi Community’, Dr Thomas made a very appreciative
reference to Prof. Homi Dhalla and said that he is a role model in his advocacy for other communities,
especially when they are in trouble or are misunderstood or misinterpreted. This other-centred, value-based and exemplary quality is certainly grounded in the Parsi ethos of ‘good thoughts, good words and good deeds’. Parsi people are very much credited for their good work and noted for their attitude to other
communities, Dr A. K. Merchant, Trustee, Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly, added.
Presenting the learning from the ‘Buddhist community’, Dr A. K. Merchant said that ‘peace and middle
path’ are main ideals of this community. The Middle Path protects us from unilateral attitude. Dr Thomas asserted that the Middle Path of Buddhism keeps us away from extremism as well as gives a discipline to live one’s life meaningfully.
Regarding the merits of the ‘Jain Community’, Prof. Rita Bagchi said that Syaadvaad, Polytheism and
Non-violence compose the main philosophy of Jain life, which is useful for keeping the social life of all
communities balanced. Jains apply non-violence to nature as well and involve all creatures in its spirit, she added.
Giving credit to the ‘Bahai Community’, Dr Thomas said its chief ideal of the ‘unity of faiths’ is the core
of inter-faith perspective as well. Belief or faith is an integrated reality of many thoughts, feelings,
emotions, experiences, etc. All the traditions of faith are incomplete in themselves and only when they
meet together, faith becomes fuller and therefore unity of faiths is a great ideal for all believers. Mr Pravin Gupta said that the Lotus Temple of the Baha’is is after the model of a flower and defies the identities of all
religions.

Referring to ‘Ten Commandments’ of ‘Jewish Community’, Prof. Rita Bagchi said that the spirit of law-
abiding in Judaism is a lesson for everyone. Alternatives to this are found in the religious scriptures of other communities, too. Dr M. D. Thomas underlined that Ten Commandments signifies the spirit of Tora and that in its turn ‘the order and voice of God’. It comes down to social life as ‘the law of living for
humanity’ as a discipline that is inevitable for all.
Appreciating the ‘Tribal community’, Mr Naveen Chandra said that the all-inclusive outlook and social
unity of this community are to be learned from. The right to land does not belong to a single person but to the community or the tribe. In the same way, the land of the village belongs to all the communities of the village. If a member of the family or community is ill and cannot work, then the other people help that family.
Regarding the communities of ‘Atheist/Non-religious/Scientific/Secular Ideologies’, Dr Thomas said that many of them are very honest and good human beings, even compared to the several so-called religious people who are addicted to various devotional stereotypes. The ‘Dalit Community’ is noted for its hard work, in spite of the fact that it is a victim of discrimination and violence. This is just inspiring, he added.
In the last round of the discussion, the ‘Lessons for all’ that emerged are the following. Dr Merchant said
that this type of exercises is exceptionally informative and motivating for promoting the spirit of inter-faith.
Every religion has contributed to the development of the human civilization and we have to take the
civilization forward together. Dr Thomas said that interfaith exercises are very much stuck up by people
who repeat, like parrots, their own religious views on interfaith platforms. The entire perspective of
interfaith has to be revised in view of other-oriented exercises that prompt one to learn from the
characteristics of other traditions and communities.
Prof. Bagchi stressed on the need to know one’s own religion deeply and Dr Thomas avowed that the
process of understanding one’s religion has to go hand in hand with understanding the religions of others, in favour of making a shared journey of life. Prof. Jain emphasized the need of spreading right information regarding religion in the society, in view of removing misunderstandings. Mr Praveen Gupta said that such campaigns should be taken up among the younger generation. Translating the ideals into life is more important, he added.
Dr M. D. Thomas, by way of ‘Summing up the discussion’, reiterated that all religious traditions are gifts
of the same God and they are the common cultural heritage of the human society. Learning from all the
traditions and communities is and has to become the culture of grown up believers. At the same time, the most crucial point in the journey of religion and faith is that we become ‘better human beings’. This ideal will be accelerated when one starts learning from others and vouches to work together with others to bring about a society that is qualitatively better and harmonious. The future of our nation and the society is intrinsic to rising above divisions and to maintaining the spirit of living together harmoniously. He expressed his hope that this discussion will add to advancing the above spirit in the society.
Of course, there are lots of outstanding strengths in all the communities that are yet to come to the table.
Nevertheless, the discussion among persons from different communities displayed a different culture of
positive and other-oriented thinking through the open exchange of ideas. The spirit of the common journey for the future was strengthened, as well. The discussion lasted for two hours and ended with high tea.

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